The challenge of eating out with young kids is one that often results in a failure to eat well: this restaurant is no good because it’s too small for prams; that one doesn’t have highchairs. One by one the list of places where you want to eat is whittled down in a quest to find somewhere good, somewhere you can all enjoy your food without becoming an encumberance to fellow diners.
Children are much more welcome in restaurants in Spain and Catalonia than in some other countries but it’s still a frustrating process. The effort required often drives families into the mire of tourist eateries, fast-food chains or similarly dreadful, brightly-lit graveyards of gastronomy where plastic tat and toys take precedence over the plates of food and tartrazined toddlers bounce off the walls. ¿Postre, café o paracetamol?
Websites such as Mammaproof do a sterling job of reporting on the pros and cons of restaurants from a parent’s point of view. One for them to add to their list of approved establishments may be La Paradeta (http://www.laparadeta.com/), or at least the branch near La Sagrada Familia.
La Paredeta means ‘market stall’ and that’s what basically greets you when you enter this restaurant: a magnificent array of fresh, uncooked fish and seafood, priced by weight just as if you were in one of Barcelona’s markets.
La Paradeta’s format has been copied all over the city but branches of the original can be found in Sants, El Born, Meridiana and even out of town in Sitges. You pick what you want and they weigh it and cook it for you there and then.
You’re given an order number and whenever one of your dishes is ready they call it out over the tannoy system and you collect it on a tray from the kitchen via a serving hatch.
No waiters, no frills, no fancy decor, just impeccably fresh food. Because of La Paradeta’s economies of scale and low number of staff the prices seriously undercut most marisquerias and if you choose carefully you can find some incredible bargains here. Be careful, though: it’s very easy to order too much. The best thing to do is to tell the person serving you that the portion is for half the actual number of people if you intend to order multiple dishes.
There’s enough space to maneuver pushchairs, a changing room for babies and the restaurant generally is very family friendly. The finger-food nature of this kind of place is inherently appealing to kids and, as seafood cooks so quickly, there’s very little waiting time for them to get bored.
It’s lively and boisterous and it’s common to see three or four generations of a family sat around several tables pushed together, laughing and pouring wine and tucking in, exactly as a good no-frills family restaurant should be. The Spanish and Catalans do this sort of thing spectacularly well, given the opportunity, but it’s harder to find venues in the city than it is out of town.
Please don’t think that it’s just for families, however: there are always plenty of couples and groups of friends in attendance too. Regardless of who you’re dining with, it’s a good idea to get there as early as possible — check their website for opening hours — because you can’t book and there is usually a queue snarled up outside at anything even close to peak times.
The food, as you’d expect, is pretty good — but it isn’t perfect. You can’t compare it with a top marisqueria or even one of the first-rate griddle places on the coast, like Rafa’s or Cal Campaner in Roses. The tomato sauce in the mejillones a la marinera is enjoyable but slightly soupy, the occasional chipirón may be slightly over-crispy, but you really won’t complain. They don’t overreach here: the emphasis is on good ingredients cooked simply and quickly. It’s fast food, for people who aren’t gormless, cud-chewing imbeciles.
My daughter’s favourite food is clams and there’s always a selection on offer.
We ordered several types, both griddled and a la marinera.
They were all enthusiastically received and plates were mopped clean.
Several plates of those, some bread, then some chipirones and calamares a la andaluz…
…and we were just about full, certainly full enough to draw a line under procedings and head off for an (acceptable, best in the immediate area but not worth a trip) ice cream at La Jijonenca on nearby Avinguda Gaudí. Our bill for 2 adults and one child — including wine, bread and water –came to about €25.
La Paradeta is a great place to try good, unfussy seafood whether you’re a local or a tourist. If you can put up with the self-service and just enthusiastically embrace the whole concept of no-frills, all-gills, fried fishy fun then this represents a genuinely quick, cheap, group-and-family friendly and — most importantly — delicious alternative to junk food.